I am 5 years into self-publishing. What started out as messaging between my friend Author Jaime Loughran and I, turned into this website, 6 books, and a huge learning process. If you’re starting out with a new book, take a look at what I’ve learned over the past couple of years.
1. Amazon is the place to publish. I know, I know, I’m probably going to get some backlash for saying this, but it really is. Yes, Kindle Unlimited screws us out of money. Yes, there are scammers and trolls galore, but if you don’t have a huge following, and are building a new platform, then wide distribution will be your enemy, not your friend. Until you have thousands of followers (I don’t. I’m still building my business.) I would stick to Amazon.
2. No homemade book covers.I’m lucky. just opened my own graphic design for indie authors page (A whole blog on that later). I think my book covers are OK, and they catch your attention, but most authors are not graphic artists and knowing the ins and outs of graphic design to make a decent book cover is foreign to them. If your book cover looks homemade, you’ll probably want to hire a designer and/or purchase a pre-made cover. Many pre-made covers can start as low as $40. It’s worth the investment. You just have to use Google to find them.
Find a site called Lousy Book covers. You’ll get the picture.
3. A clean website. I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve put so many graphics on my website, that it became messy, convoluted, and didn’t portray my message to what I write at all. Just recently, I decided to dip back into the world of blogging and found this template. I really like it. It’s modern, fresh and clean. It still highlights my books, along with my blog. A good website is worth the cost. You want to drive traffic to it, but a clean website is even better.
4. Not connecting with your readers. It pains me to write this. Recently, I spotted a post where the author wouldn’t start an email list, won’t email people, and won’t accept newsletters from other authors. I don’t know what to say to that. Email marketing is the easiest way to showcase your work, gain followers, and build relationships with your readers. And guess what… it’s free. Unless you have thousands upon thousands of subscribers, you can send out an email newsletter free on most websites like MailChimp. When you reach around 2000 subscribers, that’s when you have to pay.
I know we all hate spam, but you don’t have to spam. I asked my readers what they wanted, and they all said that once a month was fine. I don’t see that as spam and find it helps my sales and gain more of an audience. Why not try it? So what if they unsubscribe. If they do, then they weren’t your intended audience.
5. Not connecting with readers cont. I know… us writers are introverts. We would rather bury ourselves deep in our writing caves, brainstorming our next masterpiece than talking to readers. Well, that is just stupid, because guess what, your readers are your customers, and if you want them to continue reading your books you need to put yourself out there. You need a presence on social media.
You need to answer emails in a timely manner. You need Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram. You don’t need every social media, mind you, but one tweet about the flowers growing in your garden is not going to kill you. That’s the connection. Tell your readers what you’re working on. Give them an update on your next book. Involve them, ask questions, and I guarantee the response will return rewards.
6. Marketing is tough. Don’t give up. Who doesn’t hate marketing? I don’t know a single author who loves to market. After that rush of hitting the publish button, the real work begins. That means, promoting your novel. It’s a long, drawn-out, exhausting process. I take a deep breath, I go with what works and what doesn’t. There is no secret formula for success. Unless you have a great publisher and literary agent, then you are on your own. There are plenty of books, videos, blogs, and other resources to learn how to market. Read them, absorb them and find out what works for you.
7. You will get nasty reviews. I don’t read my reviews all the time. I’m not one of those that constantly hits the refresh button to see if I have a new review. About once a month, I take a deep breath, grab my trusty cup of joe and read through my reviews. I go through my moments where I want to give up and say ‘fuck it.’ I don’t need this kind of negativity in my life, then I read the good ones and that keeps me going. DO. NOT. RESPOND. TO. REVIEWS. I repeat… DO.NOT. RESPOND. TO. REVIEWS. If you have a troll then email Amazon, otherwise, it makes you look desperate, and it hurts your credibility. Look at it this way, even the most famous authors get shit on. It’s OK to be mad, but move on.
8. Your family and friends are probably not interested in your books. And that’s OK. Don’t get angry, don’t be hurt. They are not your audience. You want to establish readers who want to read your book in your genre, and that isn’t your friends or family. Let it go. If you start talking about your book and they clearly look uncomfortable, stop talking. Why does this happen? I’m not sure. I always say writing is like any other sales job. Why does writing have this stigma? I really can’t tell you, but it’s there. Accept it and move on.
9. You want to become a millionaire overnight. LOL. No. No, you won’t. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
10. Great things will happen if you’re willing to learn. I have met some stubborn authors in my time. See #4, I know a few of them. They do not want to change their ways. I guess they’re happy with their mediocre numbers. I guess they’re happy with a few reviews. I’m not saying anything is wrong with that, but don’t complain on social media about your lack of sales, and then do nothing to change it. Open your eyes and your ears. Look, read, listen, learn. We are never too old to change course. Being open-minded is crucial in the publishing world. Knowing what your readers want is tantamount to having a successful run as a writer.
11. Watch for changing trends. Right now, YA is hot and very controversial. I don’t write YA, I have no interest in YA, but I have read quite a few YA books. Why? Because I want to know how other authors write. I want to know what makes their stories click. YA is hot, and what makes YA so popular even among adults. I want to know so I can use this information in the future. It was actually because of a YA novel that “Carlton House” was born. Mine will not be YA, but you get the point.
12. Speaking of reviews, they are a bitch. On my ARC team, I will be lucky if I get 5 reviews out of them. Most of the public does not write reviews. It’s like trying to scream from the top of a mountain when asking for reviews. DO NOT demand reviews. Be playful about it. If you don’t act desperate, the reviews will happen.
13. Stay humble and polite. I recently received an email from a reader who complimented Mirror In The Forest. I was really flattered. I mean genuinely flattered. She said I was the first author who actually thanked her for the email. I answer all my emails. It may not be that day because I still work a day job, but I will answer you. Your appreciation makes them come back to read more.
14. Make friends with other authors. This is important. Other authors will help you. They will guide you, and they want you to succeed. If you help them, they will help you. I love talking to other authors about writing. It’s fun and I can learn something I may not have thought of before.
15. Finally, there are rewards. That email I mentioned in #13. That’s a reward. My sales going up with the release of House Of The Golden Butterfly, that’s a reward. Gaining more followers on my pages, that’s a reward. It’s not just about the money. It’s about the art and readers appreciating my form of art.
I’m not perfect. I’m still making mistakes. I’m still learning. I still cannot afford a professional editor. But I hope any aspiring author can take away some of the things I’ve learned over the past couple of years and follow these pointers.
Make sure to check out my gothic thriller Carlton House. Dedicated to my late father who always encouraged me to pursue writing as a career.